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Beautiful City

The History Of People Writing On Walls

Wichita is relatively new to the graffiti game.

While entire subway lines were being covered from end to end in New York City in the late '70s, the most prevalent graffiti in Wichita was a few band names painted large on the walls of the Canal Route.

Even now, you need a sharp eye to catch most of Wichita's current graffiti-- which, depending on your perspective, may either be disappointing or a reason to celebrate.

The history of people writing on walls extends from the earliest known cave paintings in Spain nearly 50,000 years ago, through the Roman Empire where gladiators left often bawdy messages on Colosseum walls, to the iconic "Kilroy Was Here" in the 1940s.

But graffiti finally became a recognizable worldwide art revolution in the late 1960s, when a few kids from Philadelphia and New York City picked up their pens and started writing.

What they created at that moment was not noticeably different from what came before. This graffiti was simple: just the name of the writer ("Cornbread" in Philly, "Taki 183" in New York) and maybe a message to another writer or a love interest.

But as they wrote, two new elements, both essentially American, were introduced: fame and style.

As word spread, other young kids wanted to "get up" in their neighborhoods, each developing their signature letter set to stand out against all of the other writers who were competing for the same wall space.

By the mid-'80s, these artists (some would say vandals) had moved from simple signatures, to bubble letters, to murals with highly stylized calligraphic and pictorial elements.

Thirty years later, modern graffiti is found in almost every city in the world, and its stylistic and cultural influence reaches into art museums, ad agencies, and even architecture firms.

Graffiti's staying power is no longer a question. Now the question might be: What do we do with it?